April 25, 2017
The Carolina Panthers are coming off an underwhelming 2016 season, one in which they’ve arguably underachieved more than any other team in the league. The Panthers enter this year’s draft with a plethora of needs; there is a lot of uncertainty on the offensive line and secondary with a need for depth at tight end. The most chatter seems to be surrounding the running back position, as many see the Panthers taking one early in the draft to be the eventual replacement for an aging Jonathan Stewart. If the Panthers want to make their second Super Bowl trip in three years, they will need a solid 2017 draft class. We narrowed down some possible picks for each round.
1st Round (Pick 8)
Leonard Fournette, RB, LSU: The Panthers first selection in the draft may come down to choosing between two talented running backs, Leonard Fournette and Christian McCaffery. While comparisons to Adrian Peterson might be a bit early, Fournette has the power to break tackles and the speed to break off big runs. There is skepticism about Fournette fitting into Mike Shula’s offense but, as far as natural ability goes, there is no better running back in the draft than Fournette.
Derek Barnett, DE/OLB, Tennessee: While the Panthers not taking a running back in the 1st round would be shocking, the shock value is diminished when considering David Gettleman’s history of taking defensive linemen in the early rounds. If the Panthers go defense for their first pick, it will likely be an edge rusher to replace Kony Ealy, who was traded earlier this offseason. Derek Barnett would be a more than suitable replacement, as he racked up 56 tackles and 13 sacks for the Volunteers last season. Barnett is not the most well-rounded player but his raw speed and big-play ability could make an already stacked defensive line even more dangerous.
Christian McCaffery, RB, Stanford: There is a strong possibility that Fournette could be off the board when the Panthers get their first pick and, if that is the case, many see them taking Christian McCaffery. McCaffery is a dynamic playmaker who can score as a running back, a receiver, or a kick returner. Even though McCaffery doesn’t have Fournette’s size, he makes up for it with a patient running style, his superb route running skills, and speed.
Cam’s thoughts: The possibility of Christian McCaffrey going as high as #8 seems to have some weight. A recent visit with the Panthers, the read option scheme fit and the connection with current Panthers wide receivers coach Lance Taylor (former Stanford RB Coach) lead you to believe they are seriously considering McCaffrey. The Panthers could definitely use a franchise running back to shoulder the load and lessen the blows to Cam Newton with a rebuilding offensive line. Don’t be surprised if they trade back in this deep running back draft class to take Dalvin Cook (Florida St.) or just take the best available player on the board if players like Malik Hooker (S, Ohio St.), Solomon Thomas (DE, Stanford) or Marshon Lattimore (CB, Ohio St.) happen to slip. Ultimately, it will be difficult to pass up on a physically dynamic grinder in-between the tackles like Fournette, who has also shown he has worthy hands catching the ball out of the backfield.
2nd Round (Picks 40 & 64)
Obi Melifonwu, S, Connecticut: The Panthers seem to really be high on Obi Melifonwu, perhaps hopeful that he could fill the seemingly constant void at the safety position. Melifonwu has the size and agility to be a solid player but, after a great performance in the Senior Bowl, some think he could be off the board before the Panthers take the 40th pick.
T.J. Watt, DE/OLB, Wisconsin: T.J. Watt is another solid versatile edge rusher who should be considered by the Panthers despite the defensive scheme fit. Watt is a bit undersized but can stay on the field and defend both run and pass well.
Taco Charlton, DE/OLB, Michigan: If the Panthers go to the offense with their first pick, it’s almost certain they’ll go to defense with the second, and that need for an edge rusher will still be a priority. Taco Charlton is an impressive edge rusher, has no glaring weaknesses, and his versatility and athleticism could make him a nice fit for Carolina.
Cam’s thoughts: Taco Charlton could easily be gone by the second round and despite the pedigree and versatility of T.J Watt, he may not fit in the Panthers defensive scheme. This might be the deepest defensive back draft class in recent memory, so the ideal picks with the Panthers struggling secondary could be safety Budda Baker (who could also be gone), Fabian Moreau (CB, UCLA), Marlon Humphrey (CB, Alabama) or safety/linebacker/kick returner Jabril Peppers (Michigan) who is an exceptionally versatile athlete, but a bit of a quandary when it comes to his natural position.
3rd Round (Pick 98)
Will Holden, OT, Vanderbilt: It’s hard to see a situation where the Panthers let their need for an offensive tackle go past the 3rd round. Opinions are mixed on Will Holden; experts have him going from as high as the 3rd round to as low as the 6th. Holden does a solid job with the pass rush, which is why he could be a great fit for the Panthers.
Devonte Fields, DE, Louisville: If the Panthers have not addressed the need for an edge rusher in the first two rounds, they will here. Fields would be a high-risk, high-reward pick. His college days were plagued by off-the-field issues but he has shown incredible athleticism and speed. The question for the Panthers would be if Fields’ massive potential is worth taking him with an early pick or if his conduct away from the gridiron make him too much of a liability, especially after the Greg Hardy debacle a few years
Damontae Kazee, CB, San Diego State: Three things are certain in life: Death, Taxes, and The Panthers needing depth at the cornerback position. Damontae Kazee would be a welcome addition to the ragtag secondary. He possesses good route awareness and recorded an impressive 15 interceptions during his last two seasons with the Aztecs.
Cam’s thoughts: Although Panthers general manager Dave Gettleman loves taking linebackers and defensive lineman in the mid-rounds, this year’s focus needs to be on the secondary and offensive line. David Sharp (Tackle, Florida), Dan Feeney (Guard, Indiana), Jourdan Lewis (CB, Michigan), Josh Jones (Safety, N.C State), or Marcus Williams (Safety, Utah) could also be good picks here.
4th Round (Pick 115)
Adam Bisnowaty, OT, Pittsburgh: If Carolina has inexplicably let their need for a tackle go to the 4th round, Adam Bisnowaty would be a solid pick. Bisnowaty is a four year starter but has dealt with injuries throughout his collegiate career. Bisnowaty has raw power and a good frame, although it is doubtful that he would be a long term solution for the Panthers.
Jordan Leggett, TE, Clemson: It is expected that somewhere in the draft the Panthers will take a tight end, but it is difficult to see them using a top round pick on one. Carolina could have a diamond in the rough if the they select Jordan Leggett from Clemson. Leggett has tremendous size, nice catching ability, and is deceptively quick. If there is any concern for Leggett, it is his blocking, which many scouts have described as lackluster.
Samaje Perine, RB, Oklahoma: If the Panthers focus on defense and don’t take a running back early, Samaje Perine would be an excellent choice in the later rounds. Perine has the same natural power and toughness as Leonard Fournette, but lacks the speed and acceleration. He could be a nice short-yardage back, replacing Mike Tolbert in that area.
5th Round (Pick 152)
Isaiah Ford, WR, Virginia Tech: The Panthers always seem to be in need of a wide receiver and this year is no exception. Ford is not a well-rounded receiver but possesses elite speed, making him a deep threat. The Panthers could use him in the wake of Ted Ginn’s departure.
Jonnu Smith, TE, Florida International: Another option at tight end for the Panthers. Smith is an outstanding tight end, featuring solid speed and good blocking skills. If he is to be a success in the NFL, Smith will have to improve on his catching ability as well as route running.
Des Lawrence, CB, North Carolina: The Panthers might be wise to keep Charlotte native Des Lawrence in the Queen City. While Lawrence hasn’t demonstrated the speed necessary of a starting cornerback, he has solid mechanics and could be a nice zone defender for the Panthers.
6th Round (Pick 192)
Sean Harlow, OG, Oregon State: Ron Rivera could use a little depth at the offensive guard position, so expect one to be taken in the later stages of the draft. Sean Harlow is a talented player, and if he is still available when the Panthers pick in the 6th round, he wouldn’t be a bad selection. Harlow is a versatile offensive lineman and could be a reliable backup for the Panthers.
Chad Kelly, QB, Ole Miss: With Derek Anderson only having a few seasons left as a backup in the NFL, it wouldn’t be out of the question for the Panthers to try and draft one late. Kelly has great arm strength and unsung mobility, making him a serviceable second stringer at quarterback.
Zach Banner, OG, USC: If Harlow is already taken, Zach Banner is another offensive guard from the PAC-12 who would be a sound addition to the Panthers if he drops down to the 6th round. Banner has had issues with pass blocking, but has incredible size and would make an adequate addition to the Panthers offensive line.
7th Round (Pick 233)
Breon Borders, CB, Duke: Borders had a late season injury that has caused skepticism toward his future in the NFL. However, Borders was impressive when healthy, recording 12 interceptions, including two over current Tampa Bay Buccaneers quarterback James Winston.
Speedy Noil, WR, Texas A&M: Speedy Noil is one of a group of talented receivers coming from Texas A&M this year. His best NFL comparison would probably be, ironically enough, Ted Ginn Jr. Noil has serious speed and could also be a major player for special teams.
Seth Russell, QB, Baylor: Seth Russell showed superb athleticism during his career at Baylor, but a terrible ankle injury cut his season short. If Russell can make a full recovery, his arm strength and natural ability would make him a solid backup to Cam Newton.
The 2017 NFL Draft kicks-off Thursday, April 27 at 8 p.m. EST in Philadelphia, PA.
Let us know your thoughts on draft day! We’ll be live-tweeting during the coverage at @CLTure.